Respected National School Leader
Irwin’s face and megawatt smile are familiar to most of our residents because of his
involvement with life at NST. A regular at Tuesday and Friday night dinners in the Club
Room (aka VIP Room) and frequent lunches, he is always surrounded by friends and
neighbors. His family background and early years are typical of the “American Dream,” as
is his successful career as a school leader and union pioneer.
WHAT WAS YOUR PARENTS’ BACKGROUND?
My parents were both born in Poland and
married there in 1922. My sister was born there
as well. My father left my mother and sister
with his parents to seek a better life for his wife
and child in the United States. My father had
to first establish residence in Argentina since
the United States did not accept immigrants
from Poland at that time.
After a separation of more than five years,
my mother and sister were able to join him
at their new home in Brownsville, Brooklyn.
It didn’t take long before I was born on June
7, 1930, at what is now known as Brookdale
My parents went into the grocery store business
by buying stores that were failing. After
long hours and hard work, they built up each
store and sold it before moving on to the next
challenge. As a result, I attended six different
elementary and junior high schools in Brooklyn
and the Bronx before I graduated from De Witt
Clinton High School in 1948.
WHAT WERE YOUR CAREER GOALS?
My plans to pursue a career in medicine were
abandoned due to the untimely death of my
father and the beginning of the Korean War. It
became necessary for me to get a job to help me
through night school at Brooklyn College and
to support my mother who was so devastated
by the loss of the love of her life that made it
difficult for her to seek employment.
HOW DID THE KOREAN WAR IMPACT ON
I met my wife, Phyllis, at a picnic on Bear
Mountain. It was a double date and she was
there with my friend. I fell in love and by the
time of her Sweet Sixteen party I was her date.
Then came the Korean War and I was drafted
into the U.S. Army Medical Corps. After basic
training in Virginia, I was sent to Fort Sam
Houston in San Antonio, Texas, to attend the
Army’s Medical Field Service School at Brook
Army Hospital, which trained medics to serve
in MASH hospitals.
After graduation, where I was first in my
class, a picture of me and my commanding
officer was published in the Brooklyn Eagle.
As a result, my orders to Korea were changed
and I ended up spending the Korean War at the
First Army Medical Laboratory at 90 Church
Phyllis and I were married during a Christmas
leave prior to my graduation. I still can’t understand
why her parents didn’t object since I was
due to go to Korea. We were lucky because most
of my buddies never came back from the war.
While serving at the First Army Lab, I was
permitted to continue my college courses at
night at Brooklyn College. After being discharged
from the army in 1954, I obtained
my Bachelor of Arts and a Master’s degree in
HOW DID YOU SUPPORT YOURSELF AND
LATER YOUR YOUNG FAMILY?
I sometimes reflect on the many diverse jobs
I had during my early days. I was a bus boy
and waiter in hotels in the Catskill Mountains;
a payroll clerk for a mattress manufacturer;
an admissions clerk for a private hospital; a
chemist for a cosmetic firm making perfumed
dusting powder (this job always got me a seat
on the subway during rush hour because I
smelled so good); a lab assistant to a research
physician at NYU Medical School; group leader
at sleep away camp; and owner of my own Day
Camp in a bungalow colony. I later supervised
after school and evening recreational programs,
worked as a clinical laboratory technician at
Jamaica Hospital, and drove a cab on weekends
DESCRIBE YOUR CAREER LADDER IN THE
NEW YORK CITY SCHOOLS.
I began my career as a teacher in 1956
in a city school and went on to become an
assistant principal, principal, and Director of
Funded Programs for children with physical,
mental and emotional disabilities. I became so
involved with these children that I requested
assignment as the principal of a special school
for emotionally disturbed and socially maladjusted
boys. This was the most challenging and
rewarding experience of my career.
As an advocate for children and schools,
I became one of the founders of the Council
of School Supervisors and Administrators
(CSA). This was the first national union for
public school principals and other supervisors
and administrators. I served as treasurer of
CSA for 12 years, organized and developed
Irwin Shanes and his beloved wife, Phyllis
the Health and Welfare Funds for the active
and retired supervisors and the Fund for Day
Care Directors. I served as the administrator
of these three Funds for 30 years until my
retirement in 2010.
WHERE DID YOU LIVE WITH YOUR FAMILY?
Phyllis and I were blessed to have three
children who made us very proud. They are
each very successful in their careers and gave
us four beautiful grandchildren and the brightest
My family had its roots in Brooklyn and
the Bronx. Born in Brooklyn, I moved to
the south Bronx, then back to Brownsville,
Brooklyn, on to East Flatbush, Canarsie, and
then Brighton Beach.
When Phyllis was diagnosed with uterine
cancer, we sold our luxury condo in Brighton
Beach to be close to many of our friends and
colleagues living at North Shore Towers.
WHAT HAS LIFE BEEN LIKE AT NST?
Phyllis loved it here. Unfortunately, after a
courageous battle, she passed away only a year
after we moved in. Surrounded by so many
friends and family living close by has been a
blessing. I’m especially fond of the sense of
security and many amenities we enjoy at NST.
My many bridge games, lunches and dinners
with friends and trips to museums and theaters
keep me so busy that I have little time to dwell
on my aches and pains. I tell Phyllis about my
day’s events each night before I fall asleep.
My children are also comforted to know
that I am enjoying my active life here. They are
amused that their father has finally achieved
his highest lifetime title, “Mr. Bingo.” It’s my
pleasure, as part of the NST Men’s Club, to
run the monthly Sunday night Bingo games.
4 NORTH SHORE TOWERS COURIER ¢ October 2019